Journalism in the Public Interest

Home Builders Lobby Weakens Drywall Legislation

A bill heralded by lawmakers as a victory for thousands of homeowners harmed by contaminated drywall was weakened after input from the homebuilding industry.


A bill heralded by lawmakers as a victory for thousands of homeowners harmed by contaminated drywall was weakened after input from the homebuilding industry. (Imaginechina via AP Images)

Last week, federal lawmakers trumpeted the passage of the Drywall Safety Act of 2012 as a bipartisan victory for thousands of homeowners harmed by contaminated drywall.

"This is a bill about protecting American families — their health and financial well-being," said Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., the measure's primary sponsor in the House. "It is up to Congress to ensure that preventative standards are in place so no American family is faced with the hardship and heartache from contaminated drywall ever again."

But the bill doesn't actually set preventative standards. Instead, it asks an industry association committee comprised mostly of drywall manufacturers and builders to develop voluntary limits on sulfur content in drywall for the government to enforce.

The measure was prompted by widespread problems with drywall, mostly imported from China to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. The board emitted high amounts of odorous sulfur gas, triggering respiratory problems for residents and causing household electronics to fail. ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune uncovered deep flaws with how the government dealt with contaminated drywall in 2010 and 2011.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, which led the years-long federal investigation into the problem, still doesn't know exactly what caused the drywall to emit gas, so it's unclear what impact a sulfur content limit will have.

The first version of the bill, proposed by Rigell in March 2012, stipulated that contaminated drywall be treated as a banned hazardous substance and included criminal and civil penalties for those who sold it or built with it.

But the bill was gradually watered down by building industry lobbyists and their allies.

First, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce struck out Rigell's provisions on enforcement and penalties. The revised bill instead directed the CPSC to develop labeling to make sheets of wallboard traceable to the original manufacturer and to set a limit on sulfur content inside drywall or adopt a "voluntary standard" set by the industry.

Those changes weren't enough to satisfy the homebuilders' lobby.

The National Association of Home Builders' top lobbyist, James Tobin, wrote an open letter to Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, in September 2012 saying the measure still gave the CPSC too much power. Industry should be assured an opportunity to influence any rule to come out of the bill through a public comment process, the letter said.

"Homebuilding is already a highly regulated industry," Tobin wrote. Letting the CPSC pick a voluntary standard, he said, "sets a dangerous precedent that will create unintended consequences."

The association found an ally in Sen. David Vitter, R-La., whose constituents include hundreds of homeowners who rebuilt their houses with contaminated board.

When the bill reached the Senate, Vitter placed a hold on it, then amended it to address the home builder association's concerns.

In Vitter's version, the CPSC would adopt a limit on sulfur content for drywall developed by a committee of the American Society for Testing and Materials, an industry association that develops voluntary standards for a variety of building products.

The same committee, staffed by a mix of builders and drywall manufacturers, was tasked with developing a protocol to fix homes with problem drywall when the problem first arose in 2008, but never released its plan.

The Vitter bill also directs the CPSC to use a tracking label protocol developed by the ASTM.

Neither Vitter nor the NAHB agreed to an interview for this article.

When the bill was sent for President Obama's signature last week, Vitter released a press statement that the builders' association supported the proposal. Previously, the association had released a statement expressing its "sincere gratitude" for the Senate revisions.

Homeowners said they had mixed feelings about the new law.

Colleen Stephens, who left her home in Virginia in 2009 because of fears for her health, said she was pleased that the government will be better able to track the origins of bad drywall in the future. But she said she was disappointed the measure didn't do more to hold manufacturers and builders accountable.

"I'm not thrilled with it, but it's better than absolutely nothing," Stephens said.

What is Congress going to do for (us) the people that are already displaced due to having Chinese Drywall?  Now that the company appealed the Judges ruling, we are being told that it can take another year or so if not longer before we can get any answers.  We have a life to and want to be made whole again.

Colleen Stephens

Jan. 8, 2013, 3:02 p.m.

We have been asking Washington for assistance for the CDW families for just about 4 years now!  We have been ignored!  As we see with the Knauf settlement it will be years before/if the Taishan families see any resolution to this financial, emotional and health disaster.  Not only is our government broken so is our legal system.  There is no way to hold foreign manufacturers accountable.  There is legislation sitting out there concerning Foreign Manufacturers but it is going no where because of big business lobbyists.  The Supreme Court has ruled against us being able to find restitution with the insurance for American businesses.  The Victims are the ONLY ones left holding the bag while manufacturers, importers, suppliers, builders, installers and insurance all walk away!

So I guess we will never be able to be whole again.  My husband has a bad case of COPD from this Drywall, and is unable to work.  we are living on 1 salary, so I would like for the Government to explain to me how am I going to pay an SBA Loan for the house with the Chinese Drywall, and rent for the house that we had to move into because of my husband health condictions.  You are right we are the victims that are left holding the bag, while our tax dollars are being sent to other Countries.  what is wrong with the US.  they need to help us tax payers first.  Totally Depress.


Jan. 8, 2013, 4:15 p.m.

One way consumers could respond is by unilaterally adopting new home purchase agreements that include clauses requiring that contractors only use building materials that have meet U.S. environmental testing standards. They could also engage their Congressional representatives. When a government agency outsources it’s oversight responsibility to the industry leaders that have previously demonstrated a lack of due diligence in sourcing safe building materials, journalists alert us, but it is the public that must insist on change. Cutting the budgets of weak agencies is one route. A government department funded by taxpayers should expect to be held accountable for inadequate performance. Thank you for this report.

Request to join the Victims of Chinese Drywall FB group.  There is also a public FB group called American & Chinese Defective Drywall.  We do have a number of VCDW with COPD.  We waited for 3 years for the CDC to even begin a study and now we have been waiting over a year for the CDC to tell us their findings on the “health study”.  Every month we are told that they are not ready yet. 
It has been infuriating over the last 4 years to watch our tax dollars go overseas!  Watching our tax dollars being sent to Gaza to build homes and schools while my home and the homes of tens of thousands of other American families are unlivable!  All of this while being told over and over again by our representatives in DC that there is nothing they can do to assist us! 

Baby Boomer,
There were some homeowners that had such a clause in their contract with their builders.  Unfortunately this did not help them because 1) It still meant a lawsuit, 2) the builder can just close up their business and open under a new name, 3) the Supreme Court of VA has ruled that   insurance does not need to cover this type of problem because insurance policies have exclusions.  Some of the exclusions that the Supreme Court ruled on were pollution exclusion, latent defect and corrosion, all finding in favor of the insurance companies and therefore allowing them to deny coverage to their policy holders.
We have engaged our Congressional Representatives for 4 years.  Unfortunately, this is the only result after four years of working with Washington. 
We have stated over and over again to Washington that it is obvious that the building industry is not able to police themselves.  You can see where that got us.

It is beyond me that our government who chooses to do business with a communist country has left us out to dry. This goes so much deeper than drywall, the root of the problem is that all in Washington are bought and paid for by big business and large lobbyist groups regardless of party. These people in Washington no longer do what is right, they only do what is right for their wallets and re-elections.

Charles A Hummer

Jan. 8, 2013, 8:16 p.m.

I personally can’t understand why all you Chinese drywall victims are bitching when: 1.  You got HR4212 passed, and screwed the rest of us American Drywall Victims, who helped you for almost 4 years. Yet you couldn’t even make sure that the American Drywall Companies were listed in this bill - just China. 2. Many of you Chinese Drywall people were able to cash in on the IRS Loss Exemptions that Congress gave you (and I am talking that some of you got THOUSANDS of $$$$$), while people like me - a Disabled War Veteran was excluded in filing with the IRS to recover Money. I got ZILCH!!! Plus any other Disabled people also got screwed like me! 3. And thanks to your help (thats right you didn’t give us any) we are still suffering, sick, and paying out of our pockets. I am not saying all Chinese Drywall Victims are on easy street, but I am sick of hearing some of those whining, when they are not sick, homeless, or setting where many of us are at right at this moment. I am living in a 7X27 space - where are you living?

George brincku

Jan. 8, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

Lets talk about whats going on Drywall is not a pure product anymore cover up after cover up American drywall is not the same product Toxic Waste has replaced Drywall with Man Made Materials and reclaim water to make it and and filled with clorides 3X or more the amount allowed by law, National Home Builders association should be ashamed of them self.This is destroying America Every one needs to understand we cant let National Gypsum Georgia Pacfic And Usg keep making synthetic drywall and using taxpayer dollars and lobby the elected .This is NOT GOOD Business and bad for people who go to Hone depot and lowes or Banner to buy it We work hard for money and this nothing short of a disaster!!!!

Term limits on HR Congress. It is time to limit the time these people serve,if we the people can not choose honest people we are better off limiting the damage they do!

Question:  Is this sort of behavior unique to our government?

I don’t mean leaving the people out to hang, because I know everybody does that when the chips are down.  I mean going to industry for to solve the problems in the industry.

What do we do about crime in banking?  We ask bankers to write their own rules.

What do we do about genetically-modified foods?  We ask the sellers to make the rules.  (Note that I’m not against GMOs in principle, but I’m absolutely against Monsanto’s business practices, which cast a shadow over THEIR product.)

What do we do about oil drilling?  We ask the oil companies to make the rules.

What do we do about prescription drugs?  We ask the drug companies to make the rules.

Either directly (as in this case) or by appointing industry CEOs to high agency positions, we actively recruit the foxes to guard the hen houses.

Interestingly, though, when governments complain that too many of us are avoiding paying “our fair share” of taxes, nobody can be bothered to ask us what the tax rate should be.  Speeders aren’t asked what the speed limit should be.  Potheads aren’t asked about drug policy.  But corporate criminals are fonts of wisdom in this country.

Great article that only underlines the problem with bureaucrats in Washington whose only interest is in reelection and lining the pockets of those who help them do so. The American people sit back and allow government to reward outsourcing and then allow substandard, often dangerous products to be shipped into the country. The only redress is to change election laws and get the money out of politics, so those who are paid to represent the people, do just that, instead of corrupt corporations.

I am American (not Chinese) toxic drywall homeowner. I testified in Washington D.C. at the Drywall Hearings in December 2011 for American & Chinese toxic drywall victims. It amazes me how the Senators try to sweep this problem under the carpet.  I am one of the administrators of American and Chinese defective drywall page on Facebook. We try to keep the victims informed when important information comes out on toxic drywall.

The problems the victims are dealing with is with big business, politics, lobbyists and the court system which is totally broken.  The homeowners will never be made whole. I have had to short sell my house. Toxic American drywall has devastated our finances. It has been a nightmare and there’s no words to describe what the victims have totally gone through over the last four years.  The Drywall Safety Act does include American & Chinese toxic drywall. It pertains to all drywall. I’m not thrilled with the bill but its a start. We are fighting a billion-dollar industry. We have to continue to fight for what is right. This is the only way change can happen. We only need a few whistle blowers to bring these companies to justice. We must not be silent or this will continue to happen to other families. The American drywall company that I am suing is now going after me for cost of $17,400 for court cost. We are going through appeals process now. Where is the justice in our country? There is no justice!  I will continue to fight for victims of American and Chinese drywall. This nightmare seems like it never ends but we must make a stand & not let these companies run over us.

The only CDW homeowners that the IRS allows to put in for a casualty loss are those that were wealthy enough to be able to remediate (remove drywall, wires, copper gas lines, AC systems and rebuild their homes from the studs up) their homes on their own, out of their own pocket.  Homeowners that are still struggling from this disaster are not being reimbursed by the IRS!

We are also affected by Chinese drywall. We built our home by ourselves, just my husband and I. It took 7 years, blood, sweat, tears, and every penny we had to make it happen. Every holiday, birthdays and Christmas for 7 straight years we were in the house working. We lived in our home 16 months with numerous health issues not knowing what the heck was happening until our A.c unit went out. Then we had a bomb dropped on us. We live in a 700 sq. ft. Trailer next to our home with 5 people and our pets, praying.

Stating the obvious, I contend China and the U.S. are broke and nobody wants to accept responsibility because it costs too much.  Great article, and thank you for continually nailing this issue to the wall Mr. Sapien; keep up the good work.

Unforunately we have reached a time in our country that massive political change has to be the top agenda. When industry trade groups control what is in bills passed by our elected officials it,s time for change. If we do not find away around the political incompetece in Washington then American citizens will continue to be subjected to bills that do nothing to help protect the viability of the state which has made this country great.As far as justice don,t count on it ,the big money of the corporate entity is at stake, you see the courts are designed to make the avearge joe think there is justice. But in this case it is corporate welfare, the corporate entity will water this down at any cost to limit their liability. The sign may say Justice Department but in realiality it"s where the corporate well healed go to limit their financial liability in wrong doing.Yes I must say it is a sad day in America I wonder if our country men of years past are rolling around in their graves at the actions of our elected officials.

  It is time to take back Washington for the good of the people and the
  good of the Country.

Robert A. Speed

Jan. 11, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

In my 34 year career as a structural engineer, about two thirds of my career has been in private practice as a consultant and the other third has been working for regulatory agencies in the area of building regulation.  Having worked in both the private and public sectors, I have seen first hand the incredible influence the NHBA and other industry lobbies have on construction regulation.  In the state where I reside, the local homebuilders association has controlled the body appointed by the governor to write the building codes for over twenty years, much to the detriment of the people of the state.  Each year, the local homebuilders association dumps many thousands of dollars in contributions into the coffers of both political parties, resulting in a very stong influence on legislation and political appointments.  Powers of State building regulatory agencies and local building departments are severely limited by efforts of the industry lobbies.  Individual consumers generally do not have the resources to counter the influence of the industry lobbies.  The preferable solution to this huge problem is to finance campaigns with public money, banning private contributions.  Failing this solution, I would suggest creation of a consumer lobby group with resources and influence comparable to the industry groups.

Chinese drywall victim. All good points above. How do the victims of this travesty unite, take control of dire loss pain suffering.  The poor families are victims but we need to organize !! I like u feel helpless. I need fire power of ten thousand families getting killed waiting ! Anyone have a way for victims to fight for our constitutional rights ?

We do have a group.  Email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Tainted Drywall

Tainted Drywall: How Companies Kept Silent While Homeowners Suffered

Foul air from Chinese-made drywall has created a nightmare for thousands of homeowners.

The Story So Far

ProPublica and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune began examining in May 2010 what was—or wasn’t—being done to help people whose homes had been built with contaminated drywall. The problematic drywall, much of it imported from China, emitted foul odors and frequently caused mysterious failures of new appliances and electronics. Worse yet, some residents complained of serious respiratory problems, bloody noses, and migraines.
More »

Search Our Database for Homes With Tainted Drywall

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories